COLLEGE CONNECTION: Money Magazine names Princeton University the top school

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Just this month, Money Magazine released its rankings of “The Best 25 Colleges in the U.S. Right Now.” In compiling its rankings, they considered criteria in three specific areas: educational quality, affordability and alumni financial success. For the third straight year, Princeton University was number one. No other college in New Jersey made the list, although one did in Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania) and one in New York (CUNY Bernard Baruch College).

Princeton continuously stands out for its academic excellence, its outstanding financial aid program (which is much more generous than that of most other schools), and its success in producing graduates who snag competitive, high-paying jobs soon after leaving the renowned ivy-covered campus. The statistics that garnered top honors for Princeton include an estimated price tag of $19,000 with average aid for the 2018-19 academic year. That figure includes room and board, fees, $7,500 median student debt and $69,800 annual early-career earnings.

Money is not the only magazine singing Princeton’s praises. For the past seven years, U.S. News and World Report has bestowed top honors on Princeton University in its “Best Colleges” rankings. The U.S. News rankings also focus on academic excellence, with particular emphasis on outcomes such as freshman retention and graduation rates.

Freshman retention rate is the percent of college students who return to the school for their sophomore year. Every college loses a few students, for a variety of reasons. But a low retention rate should raise a red flag. New Jersey colleges with a high freshman retention rate, in addition to Princeton, include The College of New Jersey, Rutgers University (New Brunswick) and Stevens Institute of Technology.

Graduation rates are also a key factor in college rankings. But here the numbers can be a bit misleading. For its rankings, U.S. News considers the percent of students who graduate within six years – not four, which is what many college-bound students and their parents typically budget for and expect.

When students are deciding which college to attend, they should take into account the criteria used by Money and U.S. News and evaluate for each the academic reputation, cost of attendance (after scholarships are applied), and likelihood of success, based on statistics from recent graduates as well as longtime alumni.

Susan Alaimo is the founder and director of SAT Smart in Hillsborough that has been offering PSAT, SAT, and ACT preparation courses, as well as private tutoring by Ivy League educated instructors, for more than 25 years. Visit www.SATsmart.com or call 908-369-5362.